‘You are what you eat’ may be a cliche, but your body’s performance depends on the fuel you give it. That means what and when you eat before and after your workout can dramatically affect your performance and how quickly your body rebounds from your training. This applies to professional athletes, weekend athletes, and those who exercise three or four times weekly to improve their overall health and fitness.
How to eat in relation to exercise is still somewhat of a mystery to many athletes, especially amateurs. That’s why nutrition and sports nutrition, more specifically, are such growing fields. A Master of Science in Nutrition, such as the one offered by Johnson & Wales University, can set you up for a career as a nutritional consultant with a sports organization, with a corporation’s wellness program, or at a healthcare facility.
Should you eat before and after a workout?
The short answer is yes; you should try to eat something before and after you work out. You want to give your body adequate fuel to power your exercise routine and to help your body and muscles recover quickly from the rigors of your workout. However, some foods are more beneficial than others. Carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, and potatoes, and proteins, such as meat, eggs, and cheese, are the best foods to choose before and after your workout.
Healthy Eating Pre-Workout
Your body needs immediate fuel before you begin your workout. This means avoiding foods with a lot of fat and fiber, as this slows down digestion and delays getting that fuel to where your body needs it. Better to save those foods for after you’ve finished exercising. Also, make sure to give your body enough time to digest the food pre-workout. The larger your meal, the longer you want to allow your body to digest it. You don’t want a large meal sitting in your stomach and diverting blood away from your brain and muscles during your workout.
You don’t necessarily need a large meal before exercising. You can improve your endurance and your performance with a well-chosen snack. Below are a few ideas for things to eat before you work out.
A protein smoothie is easy to make and consume, making this a great choice before an early morning workout or exercising during your lunch break when time is limited. What you put in the smoothie is limited only by your imagination. Some good combinations include banana, peanut butter, oats, flaxseeds, and almond milk, as well as half an avocado, some frozen blueberries, banana, and almond milk.
Oatmeal, while higher in fiber than some workout foods, is a good, quick meal that will sustain you throughout a longer workout. Combine your oatmeal with some fruit and chia seeds for taste and an even bigger nutritional punch.
Fruit is another good choice for a pre-workout snack, although some fruits are more nutritious than others. Good options include apples, oranges, and pears. Bananas are also excellent pre-workout food, as they contain potassium, which helps with muscle and nerve function. These also benefit from being portable and not messy to eat on the run.
Healthy Eating Post-Workout
Eating well after your workout helps keep your body in good overall health, but also helps your body replace the fuel used during exercise and repair muscles strained or damaged during your workout. Eating foods that support your exercise routine and allow your body to function efficiently is essential.
Protein should make up 15 to 25 percent of an athlete’s daily caloric intake. Protein is essential for energy and endurance and is also helpful in post-exercise recovery and repair. Protein can be found in meat, fish, nuts, legumes and beans, eggs, cheese, and seafood.
Carbs also help in the body’s recovery after exercise. Ideally, athletes should gain 45 to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Carbs are broken down into sugars during digestion, mainly glucose, the body’s primary energy source. If an athlete doesn’t have enough glucose to fuel their activities, the body will start breaking down muscle tissue to help meet this deficit. This reduces muscle mass and can lead to illness and infection.
Most of an athlete’s carb intake should come from unrefined carbs, such as whole wheat pasta and bread, brown rice, beans, fruits, and vegetables. White pasta, bread, and rice can help increase an athlete’s total carb intake, but these foods have less nutritional value than unrefined carbs.
Fats are also helpful to an athlete’s diet. They should make up around 20 to 35 percent of an athlete’s calories. Dietary fats are valuable metabolic fuels for muscles during endurance exercise. Fat can be found in obvious foods, such as olive oil, butter, and salad dressings, as well as less obvious foods, such as salmon, mackerel, well-marbled meats, nuts, milk, cheese, and avocados. Fat is also found in many processed foods, like chips and crackers, but these are best avoided due to their low nutritional value.
Timing of Pre & Post-Workout Meal/Snack
Assuming that you are choosing easy-to-digest foods, you can eat up to 45 minutes before your workout, according to Healthline. This helps with early morning workouts and other occasions when you may not have adequate time for a full meal before you hit the gym. If you do opt for a full meal before your workout, you should plan on consuming your food two to three hours before you exercise.
Of course, hydration is also vital to your performance and your overall health while you exercise. According to the National Institutes of Health, ‘Good hydration has been shown to sustain and even enhance performance, while dehydration has been linked to significant decreases in performance.” The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking 16–20 ounces (0.5–0.6 liters) of water at least four hours before exercise and 8–12 ounces (0.23–0.35 liters) of water 10–15 minutes before exercise.
After you work out, you should plan to eat within two hours. This helps your muscles recover and replace their glycogen stores, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ideally, your post-workout meal will include carbohydrates and protein.
Importance of Healthy Eating Pre & Post-Workout
As we mentioned above, healthy eating pre- and post-workout is vital for giving you the fuel you need for your workout, as well as the nutrition you need to help your body recover from your workout. If you find yourself losing energy in the middle of your workout, also known as ‘hitting the wall,” it’s likely the result of not consuming enough fuel beforehand. In addition, a nutritious meal or snack before your workout helps you perform at your peak and prevents your body from using muscle or protein stores to supplement the lack of glucose in your body.
Post-workout nutrition is important for recovery and overall good health. After your workout, your body needs to rebuild its glycogen store, allow muscles to recover, and build new muscles. Good nutrition helps with all these efforts.
The Impact Healthy Eating Has on Workout Performance/Health Overall
The bottom line is that nutrition and physical performance go hand in hand. You’ll not only feel better during and after your workout, but you’ll be more successful in your training, whether you’re preparing for a marathon or simply looking to get in better shape. Learning what foods to eat and how to time your eating pre- and post-workout can help you get more from your exercise routine and enjoy better overall health.
Earn an MS in Nutrition from Johnson & Wales University
Earning a Master of Science in Nutrition will prepare you to help others make the best of their pre and post-workout meals and better understand the synergy between food and exercise performance. Those with an MS in Nutrition are qualified to work in careers in athletics, corporate enterprises, and clinical settings.
Johnson & Wales University’s MS in Nutrition is a two-year degree program that can be completed 100% online. Coursework for the program includes learning to deliver expert insight and speak about best practices for advanced nutrition topics, developing scientific expertise in nutrition and dietetics to educate others better, and helping individuals and organizations promote disease prevention and health optimization. You’ll also become familiar with contemporary writing and reports on nutrition and dietary practices.
About Johnson & Wales University
Johnson & Wales University is a private university with campuses in Providence, RI and Charlotte, NC. Founded in 1914, the university is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education and has more than 8,000 undergraduate, graduate, and online learning students. JWU was named by ‘Money’ magazine as one of its Best Colleges for 2020–21. Criteria for the ranking included value, quality of education, affordability, and outcomes, including graduates’ earnings, employment status, career trajectory, and socioeconomic mobility. JWU offers financial aid to qualified students in the MS in Nutrition program.